Toward effortless and harmonious ride.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, September 19, 2016 07:55 PM
Training horses is a lot like raising children. It is not easy and there are lots of things that can be done wrong out of love and best intentions. One of those things is doing the work for the horse instead of making sure the horse listens, understands the request and then executes it. A very simple example of it is pulling on the lead rope trying to make a horse move. In this instance a handler does not "ask" the horse to follow him/her but simply tries to physically displace a horse like pulling or pushing a cart or a wheelbarrow. Another example is pushing horse's haunches over with one's whole body weight trying to make a horse to step over instead of teaching a horse to respond to a cue and then use it. I have seen these examples repeated over and over again by different riders and when I point out the difference in size and power between them and a horse they realize and laugh in understanding. Even more important, You do not want horses to know they are more powerful then you. A human has ability to use creative thinking and knowledge of how a horse thinks and learns to find solutions that require minimum strength if any.
On the ground I apply these principles with unflinching consistency. Because of this approach and time spent teaching them how to behave my horses have wonderful manners no matter how young they are. My challenge is to apply this principle while I am riding. In the saddle I have a tendency to do the work for my horses. What that means is when I ask them to do something I often end up "doing" it myself because I do not want them to make a mistake. I get so busy working that I miss out on the fact that they have already stopped and they let me "clean the room" not bothering doing it themselves. I do notice these mistakes in other riders. But it is always easier to see mistakes in others than admit them in yourself. I am a perfectionist and the concept of letting my horses make mistakes so they can learn from them is hard to uphold. The further the training goes the more I am willing to work for them instead of with them. This is not a good strategy and leads to overcontrolling, puling, holding, squeezing, driving... As you can see all of these words represent using force in order to achieve results. And we want communication and harmony.
Lately I started to seriously think about it because both my coach and my husband, who is my eyes on the ground at home, told me independently of each other the same thing - I do too much! I am too busy, too hasty and miss the fact that my horse is actually tying for me (this is the worst part of it all). I think I am beginning to understand and see my wrong doings. I also see it better now in my students because my perception is heightened.
Here, I am going to list examples of how riders do the work for their horses instead of letting a horse do the work:
  • Squeezing with inside leg and consequently holding a horse. This creates opposite result inviting a horse to lean into rider's leg rather then respond
  • Having too much contact in the reins for long periods of time. Either a rider pulls/holds or a horse leans, or both. This will not allow a horse to be in self-carriage but rather a horse using rider's hands as a prop
  • Pushing with hips/seatbones every stride. This is very natural to humans and matching horse's movement without adding any force of your own is a difficult skill to learn.
  • Kicking a horse every stride without any effect. Rider ends up exhausted and a horse doesn't even break a sweat.
  • Pulling on the reins trying to make a horse turn, stop or go backwards.
  • Pumping shoulders every stride in canter
  • Excessive leaning to one side forcing a horse to displace their body over
Instead of above actions think about that you have a conversation, you ask your horse to do something. You correct mistake by asking them to do the right thing rather then tell them what not to do. If you have to demand something, do it quickly and then leave them to execute it. Do not be afraid of how strong your half-halt but of how long it lasts. Do not mistake it with quick, jerky movements. Half-halt is a slow and smooth action in harmony of the rhythm of the gait. Half-halt lasts approximately one stride and must be followed by a moment of release. Holding longer than one stride creates a pull. If your horse didn't respond enough or at all ask again, check how you are asking, check if the exercise is appropriate and if it is helping a horse to understand the request.
Same with the legs aids. Do not ignore that your horse ignores your request. Escalate your leg aid quickly to make your point before your horse forgets what it was all about. Then keep your legs quiet until you need to correct or ask for something new.
Never use both reins and both legs together at the same time. Hand and leg action can be very close to one another but not in the same instance. Legs ask a horse to generate energy, hands ask to direct it a certain way,
Seat does not drive, it monitors the quality of how a horse uses his body and also acts as a transmission device asking a horse to gather energy into piaffe or release it into extension. Seat is the only part of rider's aids that has to work all the time by making sure it is matching horse's motion and staying balanced over it. If 'hands and legs ask and become quiet, seat even when it is quiet is not motionless. Neutral seat is not complete relaxation or release. It is one that matches horse's motion precisely without altering horse's gait in any way. This is one of the hardest skills to learn!
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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